The human brain has a negativity bias and we are alive today because of this!
If you were to count up the number of negative thoughts you had in a day, how many would there be? My guess is plenty pop up unbidden! That’s the negativity bias and there’s a reason we have it.
Our ancestors were on the alert for danger every second they were out and about, hunting and gathering. They were on the look-out at all times for predators so they could react immediately, ‘Run!’ or stand and fight.
Today, this propensity to fear the worse, is still strongly imprinted on our brains. In fact, when we experience happy things or positive things, according to Rick Hanson of ‘Buddha’s Brain’ they tend to slip away like ‘teflon’.
While negative experiences stick like ‘velcro’.
Remember an experience when you got good feedback for something you did?
Did you then dwell on that, or did you ruminate over the bit where you made a tiny mistake or forgot something that no-one else noticed? It’s quite common to focus on the bit you get wrong! And not allow yourself to feel good about all the positive stuff.
Negative Thoughts and Responding to Stress
Today, we’re not dealing with sabre-toothed tigers, yet the simplest cure for negativity is still alertness!
Be alert! Notice when your mind is full of self-critical thoughts, undermining your skills and generally putting a dampener on what’s happening in your life. You may find it’s a familiar place and might even feel more normal than feeling happy and positive!
It’s an Automatic Response
As humans we respond to stressful situations in different ways. When we feel fearful or anxious about situations we’re in, we respond automatically.
Think about it, when something happens unexpectedly, do you freak out?
Pretend it’s not bothering you (with a stiff upper lip)?
Get angry? Withdraw?
Your reaction will follow a pattern of behaviour that may well have been happening in a similar way since childhood.
So your ‘cure’ for negativity is awareness and understanding.
Eckhart Tolle, in ‘The Power of Now’, describes it as our:
‘ … endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honour and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be … The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace.’
Reduce Negative Thoughts and Learn to Love the Happy!
Next time your mind is filling your head with, ‘should haves, could haves’, give yourself a kind smile. Know that you don’t have to go down the path of negativity – it’s probably a deeply engrained habit. That’s for the time of the sabre-toothed tiger – and it no longer exists.
And next time you experience something fantastic – however small that might be, let it sink in and feel really good about yourself! Learn to love the happy!
PS Do you agree humans have a tendency to negativity or are you a cheerful person? Do let me know in the Comments below.
How Sabre-toothed tigers became extinct
Wild tiger numbers are at an all-time low. We have lost 97% of wild tigers in just over a century. Tigers may be one of the most revered animals, but they are also vulnerable to extinction. As few as 3,200 exist in the wild today.
Good books about what’s going on in our brains:
Yvette – Mindfulness and Meditation Guide
This blog post updated since first published 7 February 2015